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Overview of Jesus' Trials

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Robert P. McFarland, Sr.
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By: Robert P. McFarland, Sr.

Even the most die-hard atheist would agree that justice was lacking in the trial of Jesus Christ. There was absolutely no appearance of compliance with the then-applicable laws in any of Jesus' six separate trials. While it would seem that Satan had the upper hand by controlling the court system and winning the battle, the verdict actually caused him to lose the war. What appeared to be a miscarriage of justice was actually God's divine intervention. This is a Christian lawyer's analysis of Jesus' Trials.

O. J. Simpson, Arron Burr, Scopes Monkey Trial are all insignificant compared to the death penalty trial of a Galilian peasant 2000 years ago. "Jesus' trial" was really "Jesus' trials." The Bible reflects there was a series of six distinct trials under two separate jurisdictions. However, all six of these trials were links in a chain of events that took place within less than twenty hours. The Hebrew trial took place before the Great Sanhedrin, consisting of seventy-one members. The Roman trial was held before Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea, and afterwards before Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee.

This book concentrates on the failure of justice in the legal system to bring about the grace of God. There is a number of comparisons of the jurisprudence in place at the time of Jesus' trials and our modern legal system in America today. This contrast allows the reader to more fully understand the ramifications of the decisions that were made in these six trials.

The Great Sanhedrin, or Grand Council, was the high court of justice and the supreme tribunal of the Jews. It sat at Jerusalem, and numbered 71 members. Its powers were legislative, executive and judicial. The Sanhedrin's counterpart in the United States would be a combination of the powers of the President, the nine justices of the Supreme Court, and all 537 members of Congress in one body.

The Hebrew trial took place before the high priest and the Great Sanhedrin in three separate sittings. The Roman trial was held first before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Second, the case was transferred to the Tetrarch of Galilee, Herod. Finally, this matter was returned to Pilate who would be required to make the final decision in the last of the six trials. These trials were interwoven links in a chain of events that took place within a space of time which has been estimated to be from ten to twenty hours.

The first trial was before Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, who was the virtual head of the priestly party in Jerusalem at that time. After Annas's examination, the Defendant was sent to Caiaphas who was the official high priest at that time. One could even argue that this appearance was really two separate trials in that he appeared before two different magistrates. In any case, the results of both of these hearings were not published, and the Defendant was sent to the next step up the judicial ladder, the illegal night trial of Jesus.

After His preliminary examination before Annas and Caiaphas, Jesus was arraigned about two o'clock in the morning before the Sanhedrin which had convened in the palace of Caiaphas. The Sanhedrin violated all of their own laws and proceeded to formally try Jesus and then condemned Him to death on the charge of blasphemy against Jehovah.

The members of the Sanhedrin demonstrated that they were willing to set aside well established law to accomplish their desire to destroy Jesus. However, the members recognized that they would need to terminate the night trial and start a new trial at daybreak in order to make it appear that they had complied with established court procedures. This was done, and Jesus was condemned to death by a court that had no jurisdiction to impose the death penalty.

After a temporary adjournment of the first session, the Sanhedrin reassembled at the break of day to determine how Jesus should be brought before Pilate. This was their only concern since the guilt of the Prisoner was established earlier in the night.

The death march and the final circumstances attending the execution of a Hebrew prisoner are without parallel in the jurisprudence of the present-day world. Of course, in Jesus' trials there were no attempts to obtain compliance with these longstanding procedures. At the very least, someone should have carried a crimson banner and proclaimed to the multitude: "Jesus is to be put to death on the testimony of two unknown witnesses on the charge of blasphemy!" Nevertheless, this procedure was not followed by the Sanhedrin.

Was the Roman trial an appeal or a trial de novo? The Roman governor had the right to try the case de novo, where the offense charged, either directly or indirectly, involved the safety and sovereignty of the Roman state. The Jews wanted a final determination by themselves of the merits of all offenses of a religious nature. In other words, they wanted Pilate to limit his proceedings to a mere countersigning of their decree.

Changing the crime to match the court is without precedent under any law at any time. However, keep in mind that God can change any and all circumstances to accomplish what he desires. He certainly did not let judicial precedent stand in the way of obtaining the miracle judgment of crucifixion of His Son as foretold in the Old Testament.

Pilate was in complete charge of the Judian Providence; however, he was in fear that the Jews would riot or revolt and the news would get back to Caesar. Such revolt could cost him his job or even his life. So instead of releasing Jesus after having found Him not guilty, Pilate decided to place the blame on a local Jewish tetrarch, Herod.

After calling the case before Herod, a brief, informal hearing proceeded, where Herod mocked and brutalized the Prisoner. Unable to obtain any response from Jesus, Herod sent Him back to the Roman governor. After the return of Jesus from the Court of Herod, Pilate assembled the priests and elders, announcing to them that Herod had found no fault with the prisoner in their midst. The Court also reminded them that he, himself, had acquitted Jesus, and offered to scourge, and then release Him. This compromise and subterfuge was scornfully rejected by the Jews who had demanded the Court's execution of the Prisoner by crucifixion. Pilate, after much vacillation, finally yielded to the demands of the mob and ordered the prisoner to be crucified.

As clearly recorded in the 23rd chapter by Dr. Luke, Pilate told the members of the Sanhedrin that they had charged the Prisoner with inciting the people to rebellion before him and He had His examination before the open court. He stated to them that the Prisoner was not guilty: "I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him."

Pilate further reminded the members of the Sanhedrin who were asking him to overturn his prior determination that the decision was supported by the opinion of Herod, a Jew like them. "No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him." Then Pilate made a modification of his first opinion to punish the innocent prisoner to avoid a third Roman Trial: "I will therefore punish Him [even though innocent of all charges] and release Him."

In order to demonstrate the magnitude of the miracle that was needed to obtain a conviction of Jesus Christ, consider the errors that could have been argued by counsel:

  • Illegal arrest
  • Illegal private examination of Jesus before Annas or Caiaphas
  • Defective Indictment
  • Unauthorized night proceedings of the Sanhedrin
  • Unauthorized proceedings of the Sanhedrin prior to the offering of the morning sacrifice
  • The verdict based on the uncorroborated alleged confession of the defendant
  • Unauthorized proceedings of the Sanhedrin on the day before a Jewish Sabbath, the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, or the eve of the Passover
  • Unanimous verdict
  • Publication of a verdict in a place forbidden by law
  • Renting clothes by the High Priest
  • Irregular balloting
The real theme of Jesus' Trials is that nothing short of divine intervention would have led to a conviction of the Prisoner. This conviction was absolutely essential to God's plan for the redemption of man. If Satan could have somehow intervened and blocked this judgment, it is true that mortal man would have witnessed a more just result.

The point of this book is that justice would have been a disaster without the trials of Jesus Christ. No judgment of death for Jesus would have meant that all of us who look solely to Jesus for our salvation would not have salvation. Jesus said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." The reason that we can have mercy is that Jesus did not have justice.

Therefore, no justice for Jesus Christ means that we, as saved Christians, have avoided God's judicial system. We would normally not have any of the judicial safeguards that we enjoy under modern jurisprudence. Each of us deserves death: "For the wages of sin is death..."

We, as saved Christians, have avoided death by the miscarriage of justice set forth in this book. The Miracle of the "miscarriage of justice" was, indeed, one of God's greatest miracles. Through the lack of justice in Jesus' trials, the grace of God was bestowed on all believers by the granting of eternal salvation. Nowhere is that more clear than in the conclusion of this verse: "...but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Robert Parker McFarland, Sr.